Oh, how it pains me to say it! Sadly, the live intro used at every Kiss concert since the late 70's (remember, it used to be "Hottest Band in the Land" before that) is no longer true. Truthfully, it hasn't been true for quite some time, but at least they could have realistically been called "Hottest Band in the Country" in the years since the original lineup fell apart (again). On Oct. 12, 2009, here in Philly, I would have settled for "Hottest Band in the Building".
That's right, I said it! Musically speaking, they were shown-up by opener Buckcherry. No joke. I'm saying this, and I'm a lifelong Kiss fan. Really! I've been following them since 1977 and, for some reason, they are the one band I've never outgrown. I've been a fan of every lineup, and there have been may. I'm what you'd call a "true believer". The funny thing is, their current lineup is one of their strongest, speaking of the chops of the "young guys" (Eric & Tommy) and the heart & soul of the founding members (Gene & Paul). Unfortunately, time is catching up with them and with Paul, in particular.
Ah, the setlist, blah, blah, blah. Who cares?! Doesn't matter. They vary things so rarely now that, if it weren't for songs being included from their new and very forgettable album "Sonic Boom", this would have been a very standard set of classics.
I should have known how things would be after listening to the opening track of "Boom". The song, "Modern Day Delilah", though not terribly original, rocks sufficiently. There's just one problem: if you listen carefully, Paul's voice cracks. Cracks! And not just once, but on every chorus. Now, granted, I'm a musician and notice things the average listener won't, and they are subtle cracks, but this is a first for Kiss, allowing chinks in the armor to show. Now, I will cut the guy some slack, as he is (or will soon be) 58 years old. HOWEVER, if you're going to go out of your way to say this is your best tour ever, strongest lineup ever, best album since the 70's, etc. (all things the Kiss hype machine has claimed), you'd better f*@cking deliver! The fact is, they have no business claiming to be the greatest show on earth if the guy singing half of the tunes has a failing voice.
I held out hope that Paul's voice would be strong, like it had been for so many years past its prime, but I had an uneasy feeling, especially since I had seen the band perform on Letterman a few weeks before the Philly show and Paul's voice repeatedly cracked quite noticeably when they performed the new single. And there they were, weeks later in Philly: big stage show, big production, decent energy on the opening number with Gene singing "Deuce", then, song 2, "Strutter". Oh boy. Paul was clearly struggling to sing it and, for that matter, every single song he sang in the set. He did his best to put on a great show and whip up the crowd, but he wasn't fooling me. And how I was routing for him! "Maybe he just needs to warm up", I thought. Nope. It never improved. Not only that, but he let Eric & Tommy sing all of the backing vocals for him. How disappointing.
Now I know what you're thinking: maybe he just had a bad show. It happens, after all, especially if you're trying to sing the way you did 30 years ago. It takes its toll. But I did my research, watched all kinds of clips from many shows on the current tour, and it's the same thing. They even played on a German TV show a few days ago, after months of rest before the European tour, and it was more of the same; Paul can't cut it any more. Hey, it's not his fault, but you've got to know when to say "when". I just don't think his ego will let him do it.
I've seen the band live many times over the years and I know what they were capable of. Don't get me wrong, the band still sounds pretty good live (not great, but good), but as any Kiss fan knows, so much of what they had to offer centered around Paul's strong and very unique voice. When firing on all cylinders, and with power chords behind it, there's nothing better, but his engine has far too many miles on it now to ever go fast enough to get onto the highway. And the audacity Kiss has to try and sell a box-set of recordings of every single US show for $1,195.00, when you know there can't be more than 25 different songs included in the whole thing with Paul's voice cracking all over them. They must be in la-la land if they want to document that! Besides, do I really need 30+ more versions of "Rock and Roll All Nite"?
The current state of Kiss is a many-splintered thing. The simple fact that replacement members are donning the makeup and personae of Peter Criss & Ace Frehley (now generically referred to as the "catman" & "spaceman" characters) is enough to frustrate any die-hard fan. In fact, Gene Simmons has openly discussed the idea of having a Kiss with NO original members. The fact that he and Paul are now also referred to as "the demon" & "starchild" respectively, lends credence to this idea. They would, in essence, have their own, officially-licensed tribute band. Well, they're halfway there! They are pretty much their own tribute band already. If they are really going to go that way, and I sincerely hope they are NOT, it's time to replace Paul. What are they waiting for? Are they waiting with bated breath for Paul's son Evan to get through puberty? Well, Nick Simmons sounds just like his dad when he sings. If he can play bass, I'm sure he'll fool people in the audience drunk enough to think it's 1975.
That's the other problem: the fans don't know when to let go. I get that nobody wants to get old, but you've got to let these guys go so they can bow-out gracefully and not start sucking as they get into their 60's. This whole idea that "they're better than ever" is such BS. Look, I love my favorites too, but you've got to face reality. After a certain point, we go downhill. We're only human. I have so much respect for Robert Plant not wanting to do the Led Zeppelin reunion. He knows that he can't do the music justice any more, so he didn't go for what would have certainly been the biggest reunion tour in rock history, just for his ego or for money. He makes new music that suits the voice of a man his age, and it sounds good and natural. Paul, on the other hand, is still trying to do what he did when he was in his early 20's and it sounds forced & sub-par. I would support their efforts wholeheartedly if I felt that Paul could still cut it, but he can't. There are people like Ronnie James Dio & Sammy Hagar, who seem to defy nature and sound incredibly good for their age (Dio is 67 & Hagar is 61), but even they are not "better than ever". That very notion defies common sense. Just ask Larry Bird or Dr. J if they play ball "better than ever"!
Paul & Gene have said many times, especially when trying to explain why they continue to tour after their "farewell" in 2001, that they would rather hear people say "why did you leave" than "why don't you leave", i.e., go out on top instead of staying too long. To them, that seems to mean, if ticket sales are decent, they must still be on top. On the contrary; they are far from it. It's just that the Kiss Army is so goddamn loyal that they don't seem to notice that their heroes are just aging men. It's the biggest codependent relationship on the planet. It's time to break the cycle, people! Stop buying tickets and Kiss toilets and crappy albums that fail in their overt attempt to recapture 70's glory. Get out while you still have money in your bank account! Let Kiss know that we will always love them, but it's time for them to go.